Those participating in yesterday’s “strike” — the international “Day without a Woman” — rode a wave of renewed feminist momentum that has swept the country in the wake of January’s women’s marches. In fact, the U.S. iteration of the women’s strike was orchestrated by the very same group of women that planned the vulgar and sometimes violent protests staged in Washington the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
But the movement’s undeniable momentum looks much less promising when one considers its rhetoric, which suggests that their effort is ultimately doomed to fail. The rhetoric reveals a feminist crusade hampered by a progressive view of society that divides people into interest groups united only by their pervasive belief that they are all being persecuted.
the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.
This tendency toward melodrama was also evident when a rock singer who performed at January’s women’s march defined feminism as “a fight for all of our mothers and our sisters (and our proverbial siblings who identify as non-binary), especially the ones who do not have the privilege our culture affords wealthy, white, cisgender women.”
Yesterday’s strike and its accompanying philosophy underscore the biggest flaw in modern feminism, the same problem that plagues the broader ideology of identity politics: Both fundamentally divide society, preventing the resolution of our disagreements. This tactic of incessantly highlighting our divisions has the unpleasant effect of compounding rather than healing them. While we shouldn’t ignore our many differences — whether in gender, race, religion, or otherwise — the Left’s method of dealing with them too often ends up being socially destructive.
Dividing Americans and convincing them that they are being victimized almost always leads to societal incoherence and turmoil, whether in the form of infighting among identity groups or conflict between them and the rest of the country. Identity politics functions by persuading subsets of the population that their rights can be secured only by the government and obtained at the expense of other groups. And sustained political and cultural warfare is necessary to bolster those rights in the face of those who would suppress them. Such a dynamic is clearly unhealthy, even if it stems from the healthy impulse of recognizing the qualities that make us different.
Instead, we ought to identify our many distinctions primarily in the context of the unique value that each group and every individual brings to the table — e pluribus unum. Let’s treat our differences as tools with which to build a flourishing society rather than as qualities that necessitate constant internal strife. In this way, we can govern our dissimilarities and collaborate for the sake of the common good.
The progressive instinct to separate people by their identities and make martyrs out of each smaller group places all of them in a competition to become the Biggest Victim.
Progressivism’s constant tendency toward disjointedness not only harms society as a whole; it also undermines its own political efficacy. Though the Left has largely convinced minorities, feminists, and LGBT Americans, among others, that they need the Democratic party to protect their rights and look out for their interests, these sundry subsets often conflict with one another in a way that impedes their overall effectiveness. The progressive instinct to separate people by their identities and make martyrs out of each smaller group places all of them in a competition to become the Biggest Victim.
Progressivism’s answer to this central flaw is the now-popular idea of “intersectionality.” This approach — summed up as “we’re all victims, so let’s fight The Man together” — is evident in the way that the Guardian column awkwardly attempts to lump together “the economic attacks on Muslim and migrant women, on women of color and working and unemployed women, on lesbian, gender nonconforming and trans women.” The “attacks” on these disparate groups are intended to make a case for modern feminism. One of the slogans of today’s strike makes a similarly clumsy attempt: “Gender justice is racial justice is economic justice.”
This tangled language betrays the severe disjunction lurking beneath identity politics and modern feminism, two of progressivism’s core components. To achieve political success, activists must form links among issues that, in truth, have nothing to do with one another. Because the links are tenuous and yet necessary for political clout, the progressive coalition is unstable. Women who want substantive societal change won’t find sustained success in a movement that continues to pit its members against one another in this way.
The victim mentality of today’s feminist movement is antithetical to the spirit of authentic feminism, which celebrates women’s unique contributions to society rather than turning women into combative political pawns. “The nation . . . doesn’t need what women have. It needs what women are,” said Edith Stein, a philosopher and Catholic saint. This quote points to the fundamental breakdown in modern feminism, which denies women’s unique gifts and attempts to erase the complementarity of the sexes by telling women that they can and should behave and be treated exactly like men.
Perhaps women who join the ‘hook-up’ culture or reject their children through abortion are suppressing an essential part of what makes women authentically female.
In reality, the complementarity of the sexes is enormously beneficial to society, and to erase it would be a serious loss. A feminism that denies sex differences or that sees the sexes as in competition must necessarily be aided by an agenda of expansive birth control and abortion, both of which can function as attempts to make women more like men — able to engage in consequence-free sex. But, as Mary Eberstadt and others have argued, perhaps women who join the “hook-up” culture or reject their children through abortion are suppressing an essential part of what makes women authentically female.
A superior type of feminism need not deny the challenges of womanhood, but it ought to address them by contributing to the solution rather than going on strike out of a desire to be treated more like men. It isn’t empowering to deny the essence of what women are or to suggest that they should sterilize themselves or kill their unborn children to achieve equality or be useful to society.
Instead of demanding that the government solve all of our problems by requiring higher salaries and “free” reproductive “health care,” authentic feminism values personal responsibility, stable families, and vibrant communities. To achieve these goals, women must renounce any movement that views them as just one group of victims among many, bundled together for the sake of progressivism.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a National Review Institute William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.